Thursday, September 24, 2009
Lucky Baldwin’s Chances Dim With Rebuttal Testimony
BY DAVID PATTERSON HATCH
As transcribed by Roger M. Grace
(The writer died in 1912. Three books are attributed to him, comprised of letters he transmitted from beyond through “automatic writing,” whereby a scribe wrote out messages from him in longhand. Judge Hatch is presently transmitting his writings for publication here via “automatic keystroking.”)
Lawyers for millionaire land-speculator Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin presented a forceful defense in the action against him for an alleged breach of a promise to marry, tried before me in February, 1886. Indeed, so vigorous was the defense as to resemble a criminal prosecution.
It was as if the plaintiff, 19-year-old Louise Perkins, were on trial on a charge of unchastity.
The plaintiff was claiming that the defendant had entered into a contract of marriage with her, then abandoned her the following year after she had been compromised. Such an action would fail if jurors were persuaded that prior to April 12, 1883, she had, already, been deflowered.
J.H. Cawelti, a ranch-hand from Ventura, appeared as a crucial witness for Mr. Baldwin. He testified that he had known Miss Perkins when she and her family lived in Ventura, and that one day in late 1878, whilst on horseback in the company of an Andrew “Jack” Methvin, looking for cattle, he spotted Miss Perkins and one Bud Swinney in a valley, engaged in sexual intercourse.
Newspapers, in their respective accounts of Mr. Cawelti’s testimony, omitted the details of his description of what he claimed to have viewed, the Times denominating the discourse “disgusting” and the Herald terming it “too gross for publication.”
It appeared from the testimony that Mr. Swinney had been an employee of Miss Perkins’ parents. (At the time of the supposed sexual encounter, Miss Perkins would have been of the age of 12 years.)
Mr. Cawelti declared that some months after spotting the two in flagrante delicto, he confronted Mr. Swinney with what he had seen, and the latter proceeded to acknowledge prior intimate relations with Miss Perkins, including those taking place in a bed in the Perkins home. The witness recounted that Mr. Swinney told him that in a single room in the house there had been a bed shared by the girl’s parents, Miss Perkins’ bed, and his.
There was a parade of witnesses testifying in favor of the “prosecution,” as it were, of Miss Perkins—and allegations were of a nature devastating to her reputation.
Credibility of the testimony was, however, cast in doubt when Miss Perkins’ able counsel, Stephen M. White, produced testimony of rebuttal witnesses tending to show that perjury had been perpetrated in my courtroom.
Testimony of one witness for the defense, an R.B. Meeks, was rendered nugatory after Mr. White put on the stand the city marshal of San Bernardino. He declared that Mr. Meeks “said in my presence and that of two others he had not come down here for nothing” when he testified “and slapped his pocket, making a display of something that was in it.” The defense indicated it did not wish to cross-examine, to which Mr. White commented: “I suppose not.”
Mr. Cawelti’s testimony sustained a blow when Robert Methvin gave this account:
“Cawelti came to me when I was painting my brother’s house and asked for my younger brother Andrew, who was away. Then he said, ‘Perhaps you’ll do.’ He said there was ‘money in it for him and me.’ and that this was ‘better than working in the harvest field.’ He told me he wanted me to swear I saw Bud Swinney and plaintiff having intercourse by the Laguna fence. I told him I hadn’t fallen so low as to swear a thing against anyone that wasn’t true.”
A witness named George E. Barron recounted that he had conversed a week earlier at the corner of First and Main Streets in Los Angeles with Mr. Cawelti, with whom he was acquainted. He set forth that Mr. Cawelti told him the business in connection with which he was in this city was the rendering testimony in the Baldwin case, and he confided that he had, in fact, no knowledge of matters adverse to Miss Baldwin. In the company of Mr. Cawelti, Mr. Barron related, was Ike Harris, who also testified for the defense in the case. (Mr. Harris purported to have been engaged to marry Miss Perkins from 1879 until she became romantically entangled with Mr. Baldwin in 1893, and told of having witnessed Miss Perkins, during the time they were engaged, foray into the bushes with another man.)
Rudolph “Bud” Swinney said of Mr. Cawelti (according to the report in the Herald): “He lied out and out. Hanging’s too good for that man.”
The plaintiff’s parents both testified that they first encountered Mr. Swinney approximately a fortnight before they moved from Ventura to Los Angeles in late 1879 and that he had never slept in their home.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company